Mahabharata has always been a source of inspiration for all the dancers. Many shows and choreographies based on the epic story have been performed. Every character in the classic has inspired dancers world over and each person in the mythological tale has his or her own positive and negative shades which brings interesting twists and turns to dance works. One such character is the leading lady of Mahabharata — Draupadi.
I am glad that I was a part of a unique show, Sairandhari – The Musical by Neha Banerjee. Neha is a Kathak exponent, having learnt under the guidance of Padma Vibhushan Pt Birju Maharaj and Sheila Mehta. Sairandhari was the idea of Neha where the life of Draupadi was presented through Indian classical dance Kathak and Bharatanatyam.
If you think it was yet another classical dance show where traditional dances were used to showcase the epic story, think again. It was nothing stereotype. Yes, it talked about various episodes of Draupadi’s life but at the same time, it was compared with today. Neha, very ably played Draupadi (then) and Draupadi (women) now and I played the role of the dominating male ego that always tries its best to pull the women down in each sphere of life.
Dr Uma Rele, the super-talented and dynamic principal of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidhyala, choreographed Draupadi’s life then, using the nuances of Kathak and Bharatanatyam. On the other hand Vipin Kumar Kushwaha along with Ankita Dolawat and Aditi Deshpande planned Draupadi life now using various international dance forms like waltz, rumba, tango, aerial silk, contemporary, hip hop, Broadway, jazz and many more.
The show had five important phases of Draupadi’s life starting with her utpatti (birth) where through classical dances Dr Rele showed how Draupadi was born out of fire and got her name agniputri (one who is born out of fire) and on the other hand the modern take spoke about how after birth a girl child is put into fire. She is agniputri in both the times, one where she is born out of fire and the other she is put into the fire. So has Draupadi’s (women) life become better than before?
Moving to the youth where is the gorgeous doe-eyed Draupadi weds Arjuna in her swayamwar and is given no choice by her mother-in-law who says, “Bant lo (divide among yourselves) and she becomes Panchali (one who has five husbands) and today too she has no choice; no choice of career, marriage, children, clothes. So has Draupadi’s (woman) life become better than before?”
The third phase was the time when her maryada (dignity and self-esteem) was tested and cheerharan (disrobing) took place. Lord Krishna came to help and rescue her. Whereas today, a woman is brutally molested, teased, raped, gang raped, murdered and thrown on the streets like garbage. So has Draupadi’s (woman) life become better than before?
Another phase when during agyaatwaas (exile) while she worked as Virat kingdom’s queen Sudeshna’s hairstylist, her brother Keechak insulted her. He compared Sairandhari (maid) to a prostitute. Today a woman is disrespected and loose words are spoken about her, addressing a woman as a slut, a bitch and a whore is common today’s modern language. So has Draupadi’s (woman) life become better than before?
The last part was mahaprasthanam (the great journey to moksha) where the five powerful husbands don’t even turn and look back at her when she slips and falls. And today too, after a woman dies, some men bring a new bride within a few days. Whereas when a man dies, the woman must remain a widow for life and has no right to dress nor meet anyone other than god. So has Draupadi’s (woman) life become better than before?
I asked Neha as to what inspired her to conceive this one-of-its-kind show and she said, “I was reading an interesting book called Palace of Illusion and it made me look at Draupadi’s life with a very different perspective and then when I would pick up newspapers and read about girl foeticide, rape, molestation, child marriage, widows of Vrindavan etc and my heart would ask a question, ‘Has my life (a woman) become better or worse? This question gave me sleepless nights and that is when I decided to make this show and ask the same question to the people of my country.”
This show has lights designed by Sangeet Natak Akadami awardee Gyan Dev Singh, music by Vivek Mishra, poster design by Akash Kumbhar. Many musician have given their valuable time for it too: pakhawaj – Ganesh Sawant; vocal – Shalini Sinha and Omkar Patil; sitar – Aprna Deodhar; flute – Bhaskar Das; sarangi – Sandeep Mishra, costumes — Sladen. The show was managed by Parul Chawla and Satish Jupiter, executive producer Aditi Kapadia and backstage management was done by Jameel Shah. The show opened in Chennai and Mumbai with houseful audiences and is now travelling to Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, London, New York, Paris and many more cities.
This hard-hitting and extremely bold show speaks nothing but the truth of what was the life of Draupadi then and compares it to her life today, leaving the audience with the same question that haunts Neha even today. Has Draupadi’s (woman) life become better or worse? Is a woman an ardhangini (equal half) or is she his better half? Is a woman to be loved by the man or is she his sairandhri (maid)? These are some important questions which we all need to ask ourselves today. Even if you have not seen the show I hope you will be able to find answers for yourself and make the place we live in better for men and women both.
Sandip Soparrkar is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with two National Excellence awards and one National Achievement Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]